Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America

Red Meat Republic: A Hoof-to-Table History of How Beef Changed America

by Joshua Specht


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How beef conquered America and gave rise to the modern industrial food complex

By the late nineteenth century, Americans rich and poor had come to expect high-quality fresh beef with almost every meal. Beef production in the United States had gone from small-scale, localized operations to a highly centralized industry spanning the country, with cattle bred on ranches in the rural West, slaughtered in Chicago, and consumed in the nation’s rapidly growing cities. Red Meat Republic tells the remarkable story of the violent conflict over who would reap the benefits of this new industry and who would bear its heavy costs.

Joshua Specht puts people at the heart of his story—the big cattle ranchers who helped to drive the nation’s westward expansion, the meatpackers who created a radically new kind of industrialized slaughterhouse, and the stockyard workers who were subjected to the shocking and unsanitary conditions described by Upton Sinclair in his novel The Jungle. Specht brings to life a turbulent era marked by Indian wars, Chicago labor unrest, and food riots in the streets of New York. He shows how the enduring success of the cattle-beef complex—centralized, low cost, and meatpacker dominated—was a consequence of the meatpackers’ ability to make their interests overlap with those of a hungry public, while the interests of struggling ranchers, desperate workers, and bankrupt butchers took a backseat. America—and the American table—would never be the same again.

A compelling and unfailingly enjoyable read, Red Meat Republic reveals the complex history of exploitation and innovation behind the food we consume today.

Product Details

ISBN-13: 9780691182315
Publisher: Princeton University Press
Publication date: 05/07/2019
Series: Histories of Economic Life , #3
Pages: 368
Sales rank: 78,108
Product dimensions: 5.50(w) x 8.50(h) x 1.40(d)

About the Author

Joshua Specht teaches American history at Monash University in Australia. He divides his time between Melbourne and South Bend, Indiana. Twitter @joshspecht

Table of Contents

Acknowledgments xi

Introduction 1

Making Beef Modern 4

How Beef Transformed America 7

Beyond the United States 11

A Steer's-Eye View of the History of American Capitalism 14

Book Overview 17

1 War 21

The Golden Age of the Plains Nomads: Buffalo and the Spread of Horses across the Plains 26

"A Helping Hand over This Wild and Destitute Country": Life on the Texas Frontier and the Red River War 30

Beef Handouts and the Reservation System 44

From War to Criminality: Retelling the Story 58

Conclusion 64

2 Range 67

"As Large as All Yorkshire": Buying, Counting, and Managing Cattle 75

Land: Private, and Public 81

"Cowboy-ism": Cattle Workers and Western Mythology 95

"Doomed of Its Own Excesses [?]": Hard Winters, and the Collapse of the Industry 106

Conclusion 115

3 Market 119

The Cattle Marketing System 122

From Ranch to Slaughter 132

Horses, Water, and Stampedes: The Ecology of Cattle Trailing 134

Cattle Disease and the Regulation of Mobility 145

Between Trail and Market 152

Making a Deal 165

Conclusion 170

4 Slaughterhouse 174

Labor 179

Refrigerators on Wheels 191

The Decline of Wholesale Butchering and the Rise of Dressed Beef 201

Early Regulatory Approaches 210

Conclusion 215

5 Table 218

Buying Beef 224

Canned Beef and Its Critics 227

Beef and Hierarchy 235

Concluding with a Meat Riot 247

Conclusion 252

Notes 261

Bibliography 309

Index 329

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